Friday, June 05, 2009

The Wire, Season 2, Episode 2: "Collateral Damage" (Veterans edition)

Once again, we're revisiting season two of "The Wire" in two versions: one for people who have watched the entire series and want to be able to discuss it from beginning to end, and those who aren't all the way there yet and don't want to be spoiled about later developments. This is the veteran post (click here for the newbie version).

Spoilers for episode two, "Collateral Damage," coming up just as soon as I set up a field sobriety checkpoint...
"Anyway, there'll be other girls." -The Greek
There was some discussion last week among the veterans that, out of all five "Wire" seasons, this one has the slowest build. I'm not sure that's true -- have we already forgotten how long it took before the Barksdale task force accomplished anything of note? -- but if it is, it feels appropriate that it was in a season featuring The Greek (Bill Raymond), who's definitively identified as the old guy at the counter of the diner.

The Greek is slow. He is meticulous. He has little to no sentiment -- he has Vondas kill the shepherd not out of some need for vengeance, but because this is simply how business needs to be done, and then he shrugs off the death of the 14 girls as an accounting issue that's easily rectified -- and he takes his time because he does not want to make a mistake. And in ordering Vondas to kill the shepherd, The Greek has apparently rendered Bunk and Lester's investigation into the dead girls pointless, as the man responsible has now been murdered and will soon be butchered by Sergei.

In that way, Bunk, Lester and Beadie Russell are going to be swimming against an unwavering tide in the same way that Frank Sobotka is. While Frank's busy getting into bed with The Greek -- and lying to himself about what might be in the cans -- in an effort to rebuild the port and save his union, we see Valchek's buddy Andy Krawczyk preparing to turn the grain pier into the exact kind of condos that Nat Coxson warned Frank about last week. These people aren't just fighting a battle they can't win -- they're fighting a battle they lost a long time ago, even if they can't realize that.

At this stage, of course, no one recognizes that all is probably hopeless, so plans are being made, and pieces moved (slowly) into place. This episode would be the point in a more traditional serialized show where Lt. Daniels would be sprung from evidence room purgatory to look into the dead girls with the help of Jimmy, Kima and company. Instead, nobody wants anything to do with the case, and eventually Bunk and Lester get stuck with it. Daniels is preparing to quit, McNulty is still on the boat -- and more on Rawls' hit list than ever before -- and the detail that Burrell and Rawls put together for Valchek is both too narrow in scope (Valchek just wants dirt on Sobotka) and filled, as the first detail was, with obvious humps. (Rawls even recycled Augie Polk's drunk ass for this one, which is a joke only Prez can appreciate.)

What's amazing about this season is how so many big things are driven by such a small thing as a stained glass window at a church. With Barksdale, Jimmy was trying to show how smart he was, but there was a sense that this was a bad guy and something needed to be done. Here, this is just Valchek working out a petty grudge about the window, and about Frank belittling him in front of the other checkers. I love the scene where Valchek briefs the task force (not knowing they're humps), sitting in the middle of that decrepit old building, trying to be so dramatic, like he's been watching too many '70s cop movies(*) and has convinced himself they're going after a much bigger target than some piss-ant union leader who bought a window and made a few cracks about CYO dances. It makes me laugh every time I watch it.

(*) As Valchek, Al Brown sure looks like somebody who could have been a supporting character in "Serpico," doesn't he?

The irony is that Frank really is a big fish -- or, at least is connected to big fish like The Greek -- but that has nothing to do with Valchek's vendetta.

Sobotka is one of the few characters in "Wire" history who isn't in any way motivated by self-interest. He's not pocketing the money from The Greek, and even scolds Horseface for stealing the vodka. His attempts to save the union aren't about Frank; he's old enough, and senior enough, that he doesn't have to worry about running out of work before he's ready to stop working, even as the stream of ships coming into the port continues to slow to a trickle. He's doing this for the guys in the union -- not just kin like Nick and Ziggy, but LaLa and Johnny 50 and the rest who have the same background but a far dicier future.

But while Frank's goals may be noble, his methods are not. Before Beadie went into the can with the crushed air pipe, Frank could maybe assume that The Greek was just asking him to smuggle in cigarettes, or booze, or even drugs, and those were answers he could live with. But this is human trafficking he's involved with, and despite a brief moment of bluster with Vondas -- who implies that there might be even worse things in other cans that didn't get opened -- he backs down and agrees to keep the arrangement going. Whatever illusions Frank had about what he's doing are gone now, but he feels like he has no choice but to keep doing it.

And as Frank is busy trying to save the union, he doesn't have time to notice that his son is trying to follow his old man into the crime business -- a business that we quickly see, through his conversation with White Mike, Ziggy's as badly-suited to as he is to being a checker.

Ziggy's one of the more polarizing characters "The Wire" ever gave us. He's so pitiful, so obnoxious, that he can be easy to hate. But Ziggy's problem is less of character than of time and place. This is a kid who is terribly suited to either of his father's current professions, but it's the world he was born into. As commenter Eyeball Wit put it last week (before noting actor James Ransone's resemblance to John Cazale, and how perfectly that makes Ziggy the Fredo Corleone of the Sobotka family):
If he grew up in Towson as the son of an accountant, he'd be a senior in college, planning pranks, passing out at frat parties and chasing co-eds, with nothing expected of him and no real consequences attached to his behavior.
But he's not a college kid, and his mistakes are going to have real consequences, assuming he can ever figure out how to get a package to sell.

And speaking of packages, we get more concentrated time in the prison with Avon and Wee-Bey as they deal with the harassment of a guard who doesn't particularly appreciate Wee-Bey having murdered his cousin -- and who happens to be dealing drugs on the side to the prisoners. (Note that D'Angelo, in our brief glimpse of him, has turned to dope to deal with the weight of his 20-year sentence.)

Here's my question: if Tillman weren't dealing, would Wee-Bey and Avon be as willing to get back at the guy? Yes, he overturns Wee-Bey's tank full of (fake) fish, and he disrespects Avon to his face, but he does have a legitimate beef with Wee-Bey, which even Wee-Bey seems to recognize. If he were just a straight-arrow looking to settle a family score in a non-lethal way, would they let the harassment go on? One of the things that seems to distinguish Avon from some drug dealers we'll meet in later seasons -- or, for that matter, from The Greek and his crew -- is that he still seems to acknowledge certain parts of the social compact, but is that just a matter of convenience for him?

Or is Avon, like The Greek, and like Frank Sobotka, just about getting his, no matter the cost or consequences to others?

Some other thoughts on "Collateral Damage":

• This episode marks the first appearance of Valchek's real estate developer buddy Andy Krawczyk. Like a number of "Wire" actors, he had a recurring role on "Homicide" as defense lawyer Russom, who was sort of a prototype for Maury Levy. (Albeit not nearly as corrupt, from what we saw, as Maury.)

• I like that the "villains" on "The Wire" are at least as smart as the "heroes," and that there's often a muddy line about which side is which. Burrell is clever enough to recognize that Valchek is pursuing a grudge, but since it's politically expedient to him, he gives the guy his task force. And where Jimmy has always hated Rawls, we see here that the other Homicide detectives -- including Bunk and Lester -- have more than a bit of hero worship for the guy after seeing him (for the moment) dump the dead girls off on the state cops. Beadie, meanwhile, is horrified to realize that Jimmy is only interested in the dead girls to get revenge on his old boss, which means both avenues of investigation into the port are coming as the result of petty feuds.

• Somebody want to explain the beer with egg yolk to me? I've seen it elsewhere, and it never fails to make me queasy.

• Carver returns, now working as a sergeant in Valchek's district, and he gets one of the funniest lines of the episode: after Frank complains that "you work for a gaping a--hole," Carver pauses a beat (as if deciding how frank to be with this civilian), then says, "More than one, actually."

• Also making her season two debut: Ronnie Pearlman, getting the worst of all possible Jimmmy McNulty booty call worlds.

And now we come to the veterans-only portion of the review, where I'll take note of a few things that will be important down the road:

• Sergei doesn't know it, but he's been caught on tape chasing down the shepherd, which will lead to his downfall.

• The task force's headquarters may not look like much now, but the Major Crimes Unit will make great use of the place over the coming seasons, and its out-of-the-way location turns out to be particularly useful when Lester and Jimmy are running Operation: Bitey in season five.

• How long do you think various stevedores around the world kept sending Valchek's surveillance van around before someone finally unpacked the thing to sell it for parts?

• Yet another sign that Carver is destined to one day be the new Daniels: he explains to Frank that the car-papering issue is all about "chain of command," which was Daniels' favorite catchphrase in season one.

Coming up next: "Hot Shots," in which Sobotka and Valchek both go out to fancy dinners, Nick gets a haircut, Stringer does Avon's bidding and someone's back in town.

What did everybody else think?

73 comments:

Ostiose Vagrant said...

I think for about the first minute Beadie was ready to hero worship this guy who took time to investigate the bodies only to have that shattered when Jimmy told he upfront he wanted this to spite Rawls. He's pretty frank about his a**holery. On the other hand, Valchek is oblivious to his overflowing amount of the same substance.

I like that the "villains" on "The Wire" are at least as smart as the "heroes," and that there's often a muddy line about which side is which. Burrell is clever enough to recognize that Valchek is pursuing a grudge, but since it's politically expedient to him, he gives the guy his task force.

I never thought of Burrell as a good guy but he probably is. Similarly, I thought that when Daniels gets the opportunity to get out of the basement while also knows this is some petty vendetta deal. that he also chose to play the game and take his golden ticket out of the doghouse. I mean like he was also pragmatic in his decision.

thanat-0s said...

"And speaking of packages, we get more concentrated time in the prison with Avon and Wee-Bey as they deal with the harassment of a guard who doesn't particularly appreciate Wee-Bey having murdered his cousin -- and who happens to be dealing drugs on the side to the prisoners."

Avon repeats Santangelo's line from season one in that scene where they speak about the guard while eating nuggets: "I swear I don't even remember this one", reffering to Ladontay's murder. That's exactly what Santangelo says, when Jay calls him with the news of McNulty and Bunk solving one of his old cases. Murder became part of everyday work for both of them.

Fernando said...

I didn't get to say it last week, but I love that Avon's short 7 year bid now becomes a liability with his drug connection as they assume he snitched.

Also always loved the parallel of how "real" police work gets done and season 1 and season 2. Though it was McNulty's crusade, it was Phelan who had the political muscle to get a detail together and now its Valchek who gets one. Seems like in the world of "The Wire", things only get done when some has a personal stake in it or gets personally offended and has enough clout to get the resources together.

Fernando said...

Also, as a Towson alum, and thank you and Eyeball Wit for the shout out. GO TIGERS!!!!

bsangs said...

Boy, you got that right about Ziggy. Forgot how much I hated him until you started this enjoyable look back. I don't know what your rule is regarding spoilers when discussing a show that's this old, but I enjoyed when Ziggy got his.

Otto Man said...

One of the things that seems to distinguish Avon from some drug dealers we'll meet in later seasons -- or, for that matter, from The Greek and his crew -- is that he still seems to acknowledge certain parts of the social compact, but is that just a matter of convenience for him?

I think it's the former.

Remember how mad Avon got over the attempt to shoot Omar with his grandmother outside church, a violation of the no-shooting-on-Sunday code? Made the soldiers buy her "a new crown," even.

Unlike Marlo, who'll kill a store security guard just for raising a polite complaint about his stealing lollypops, Avon has a sense of what's out of bounds. (Had that security guard testified against someone, though, things would be different.)

He also sees himself as a community leader -- leading the towers' basketball team, funding Cutty's gym, etc. He's looking for respect, not just fear.

Dan said...

bsangs: You can post spoilers in this edition "Veterans edition" - just keep them out of the "Newbies edition."

I forget - did Ziggy kill himself in prison?

chris said...

I don't think it was the pettiness over the stain glass window that set everything in motion. Instead it was the Greek's decision to leave the "can" with the dead girls instead of taking it out from the docks.

The Greek must have known something was wrong - why else leave it? He miscalculated on this one. He should have took the can out and disposed of the girls however a guy like that would dispose of bodies. Instead he left it there for others to deal with and these others started looking more closely into what was coming into and out of the docks.

In many ways - the careful Greek was not so careful in this episode.

Mike C said...

chris - I got the impression that the Greek was afraid that the illegal can had been identified either on board or by customs, and that the shepherd may have been arrested. So by taking the can, Sergei could've been arrested. Seems like maybe he may have been TOO careful in this case.

On another front, I've always loved that meeting between Valchek and Burrell. They're both consummate "players" in the system and so their deal is arrived at with little explanation necessary. They both know what the other is getting at. And that's how things get done. (Valchek's position at the end of the series makes it even more amusing.)

Andrew said...

After watching these first two episodes on the rewatch, it feels like events are coming together much faster than I thought the first time I watched this season. Knowing who is connected with whom makes a big difference in understanding why these events have meaning. And this show is so meticulous that every establishing shots feel like they're more imbued with meaning when re-watching.

It's amazing how much this investigation exists only because of personal grudges and politics. Valchek gets a detail to investigate the port because of his grudge with Sobotka. Homocide has to deal with the dead girls in the can because McNulty is doing everything in his power to screw over Rawls (who is doing everything to make sure his department doesn't have to take responsibility for the girls and eat the jane does into his clearance rate.) Burrell needs Valchek's support with the City Council, so he agrees to get Daniels to stay to appease Valchek and the detail in exchange for a promotion (and a specialized detail with his own people).

Word verification: fluccar - (n.) person responsible for transmitting/transporting swine flu over state lines (Prarie Home Companion optional.)

Gordon Harries said...

I have to say, you know.. I've never really understood for utter hatred out there for Zig.

dronkmunk said...

Remember how mad Avon got over the attempt to shoot Omar with his grandmother outside church, a violation of the no-shooting-on-Sunday code? Made the soldiers buy her "a new crown," even.

Also, the scene from "Game Day" in season 1 when Avon got mad at the Ref for being scared of him, and thinking that he was going to get violent over losing a basketball game..

DoctorJ said...

I'm really enjoying these write-ups adn a chance to revisit my favorite TV show ever. I was struck by your comment about Ziggy not being suited for the world he was born into. In a sense, he parallels D'Angelo Barksdale, whose temprament just didn't match what his station in life called him to do.

Bryan said...

Somebody want to explain the beer with egg yolk to me? I've seen it elsewhere, and it never fails to make me queasy.


I've heard a couple different things about it. It's a hangover cure (never tried it) and also it's breakfast for the 3rd shifters coming off work. I guess it's just a way to get some additional nourishment without actually having to eat.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't think it was the pettiness over the stain glass window that set everything in motion. Instead it was the Greek's decision to leave the "can" with the dead girls instead of taking it out from the docks.

But nobody cared about or wanted to deal with the dead girls in the can. Even after Jimmy stuck Burrell with it as a homicide case, the investigation still wasn't going to get anywhere without Daniels' detail, which only happened because of the stained glass window.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think it's the former.

Okay, so in that case, do you think Avon would have left Tillman alone if he were simply a law-abiding guard who was harassing Wee-Bey over his cousin's murder?

chris said...

Alan - I had thought about that but the Greek also jeopardized his relationship with Frank and thus his way in and out of the docks by leaving the girls. He had to got to triple the usual amount to get any future shipments and even at that price Frank was having second thoughts about the whole arrangement.

The Greek knew the girls had to be found eventually if he just left the can there. He would have been better off taking the can in the first place. Boris would have taken care of things if cops showed up.

Otto Man said...

Okay, so in that case, do you think Avon would have left Tillman alone if he were simply a law-abiding guard who was harassing Wee-Bey over his cousin's murder?

Hard to say. If the harassment evolved beyond the cell shakedown, maybe.

But even the reaction he had -- exposing Tillman's drug dealing -- was fairly mild. He didn't have the guy killed, he didn't even frame him for doing something illegal.

He just tipped off the authorities. You know, like a leading citizen of his community would be expected to do.

SPP said...

I think Avon would have done something, because he has to. Wee-Bey carries some hefty charges, so Avon needs to do everything he can to keep Wee-Bey happy. What he would have done if Tillman were legit is hard to say, because it's also true that Avon clearly distinguishes between the different worlds out there.

I've always felt Avon would be the easier character to just hang out with, because he does so clearly recognize the rules of different social circles.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But even the reaction he had -- exposing Tillman's drug dealing -- was fairly mild. He didn't have the guy killed, he didn't even frame him for doing something illegal.

He did frame him, by replacing his supply with poison, so that a bunch of prisoners would die -- not only bringing the case to the attention of the authorities, but greatly increasing the charge versus just tipping off the warden that he had a drug-dealing guard.

eyeball wit said...

Otto-man: Well, said. You beat me to it on the church crown and security guard.

Okay, so in that case, do you think Avon would have left Tillman alone if he were simply a law-abiding guard who was harassing Wee-Bey over his cousin's murder?

I get the sense it would have been a more proportional response. Let Tillman vent for a while, but if it goes on top long, he would have been met with a series of increasingly pointed suggestions "to shut the f%*# up and leave us alone, because you don't know who you're dealing with.
The Barksdale crew had some patience with citizens, it seems.

But even the reaction he had -- exposing Tillman's drug dealing -- was fairly mild. He didn't have the guy killed, he didn't even frame him for doing something illegal.

True dat. Except that like 10 prisoners got killed with hot shots that Avon's crew planted in Tillman's dope, but whatever.

I forget - did Ziggy kill himself in prison?

Not that we see, at least. But he was, shall we say, clearly less well suited to prison life than, say, Wee-Bay.

but I enjoyed when Ziggy got his.

That's harsh. Did you cheer when Bode and Poot made their bones on Wallace?

bsangs said...

Dan - from what I remember, no. Ziggy was sent to prison after copping to Glekas' murder. I don't recall any mention of him dying in jail.

bsangs said...

Eyeball - harsh, maybe. But that's how much I hated Ziggy.

troy said...

I don't think Sobotka is entirely noble. My take was that he gets a kick from being the fixer, and that he wants to be the guy who saved the longshoremen en masse. Minor point, maybe.

Visceralist said...

I think Avon was more interested in using Tillman as a means to get his prison term reduced than he was about his aggression towards WeeBay. He would probably have planted the hot shots on any guard that he knew was dealing, but it just so happened that he was killing two birds with one stone by planting them on Tillman.

Nathan said...

If Ziggy HAD been born in Towson to an accountant father, he'd be one of the white kids trolling through Hamsterdam looking for a fix in Season Three.

Joshua R said...

"because this is simply how business needs to be done"

I like how they set this theme up in Season Two and then have it play out in Season Three. I'm thinking of the many musings by Spiros or the Greek about business, but also an anecdoate of Butchie's (about an old time dealer who went up to NYC, hooked up with the Italians and, because of his steady supply, was able to run things like a business - if a person gets hurts, there's a reason and that's it). Of course, in Season Three (which I'm going through right now) the downfall of the empire occurs due to the dissension between the businessman Stringer and the gangster Avon.

ianras said...

> Sobotka is one of the few characters in "Wire" history who isn't in any way motivated by self-interest.

I disagree with this. His selfishness wasn't an obvious type like for money or political advantage but it was selfishness; his identity was so fully derived from the community of the port workers that the very thought of the community dissolving threw him into turmoil and so he turned to crime. The protection of the port workers was, all in all, incidental. I thought this was brought out fairly well in one of my favourite scenes of the series: the conversation between him and Ziggy at some point mid-season where they talk about how, when Ziggy was small, the men would sit around discussing which crews and workers were the best at the different jobs.

Anonymous said...

So if I understand this, in the economy of the show's BPD, specifically the homicide unit, the raw material from which a favorable statistic (a stat positively affecting the clearance rate) can be produced is dead bodies determined by the coroner to be homicides. Some are more productive than others. "Dunkers" are, by definition, very productive in that they may be converted into favorable stats without much labor or expertise. A "whodunnit" is the opposite of a dunker, a case without witnesses, obvious suspects, or any manifest evidence of the likely perpetrators. These cases can require a great deal of effort, skill and intelligence (or luck or Madame LaRue) to convert into favorable stats. The production of favorable stats by the laborers (the detectives) not only is exchanged for money (wages that can be exchanged within the general economy) but can earn promotion (accruement of power) or other favors. The bosses as well can exchange favorable stats for promotion within the BPD, which gains them more money, prestige or other perks. Ultimately, as I recall from later seasons, favorable stats can similarly be exchanged by the BPD bosses with the governing city politicians for various benefits to themselves directly or through the Department. The relationship between favorable stats and apprehension, prosecution and confinement of the actual perpetrators is not direct; favorable stats can be produced without doing justice or protecting the public in the sense of punishing or removing from among the public the actual perpetrators of the murders (assuming in the latter case that the actual murderer is a continuing danger to the public). An arrest with sufficient evidence to convince a prosecutor to lay charges is I think sufficient to produce a favorable stat.

So if I have this right, the reason why the BPD homicide unit does not want to take the case of the murder of 14 young women ("pussy in a can" as Landsman refers to them) is because, all things being equal (assuming no external intervention in the economy of homicide, for instance, the victims are not "important" people, will not stir up public feeling directly or indirectly through the exploitation of their tragedy for political purposes, i.e., a "redball"), as victims they have poor value as raw material taking much effort to convert into favorable stats . . . if it could be done at all. And Landsman, Cole, Freeman and Bunk look on with such concern as Rawls tries to avoid being stuck with such poor quality raw material for the production of favorable stats because of the presumed difficulty, for Cole in particular, of converting the this horrific human tragedy into favorable stats. Indeed, if it is not possible to do it the result would be a loss (a substantial decrease in the clearance rate) earning the ire of the bosses up the chain of command.

So if I've understood, It seems that justice for these young women is following essentially the same human-debasing logic that put them into the can in the first place.

Otto Man said...

He did frame him, by replacing his supply with poison, so that a bunch of prisoners would die

Whoops! Totally forgot that part.

Daniel said...

I hate to defend such an odious character, but you're giving Valchek a bit of a short shrift here. Yeah, he instigated the investigation of Frank out of a petty grudge, but his instincts were pretty sound. He's the one guy who noticed that the stevedores were showing too much money and correctly assumed they were into something illegal. His investigation would have been meaningless if he didn't have such a good eye for corruption.

Bryan said...

His selfishness wasn't an obvious type like for money or political advantage but it was selfishness; his identity was so fully derived from the community of the port workers that the very thought of the community dissolving threw him into turmoil and so he turned to crime.,

I disagree with this (and very much agree with Alan)- Trying to save your family, your community, your entire world is always going to be somewhat "selfish" as you live in that world. Alan's talking about being motivated by self-interest which is entirely different. All that Sobatko did was for the community- of course he would benefit if it worked out but not at the expense of the rest of the community.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hate to defend such an odious character, but you're giving Valchek a bit of a short shrift here. Yeah, he instigated the investigation of Frank out of a petty grudge, but his instincts were pretty sound.

I'm not saying Stan is dumb. Obviously, he's pretty damn clever to be in the position of power he is here (and the even bigger position he'll be in down the road). But he makes it very clear to Burrell that he's really not interested in corruption within the union. He just wants to take down Sobotka, by any means necessary.

Keep this in mind when we get to one of the funniest scenes of the season: Daniels shows Valchek the case board featuring all of their damn near miraculous work in terms of identifying all the bad things happening at the port, and all Valchek cares about is that Sobotka is off in the corner instead of at the center of things.

BF said...

To butress Iranas's point, Frank isn't just doing this only to save the community. He wants all the other stevedores to know *HE* was the one that saved the community. In that way, he's kind of like Marlo: he doesn't care about the money so much as the respect.

Kevin said...

It's been said a thousand times before, but it's funny how this show changes your expectation of how police think or act, and make you question who you're rooting for. Every other police show would have the cops heroically taking on the challenge of the 14 dead girls, and start pounding the pavement trying to find their killer.

This show gives you a scene, even one involving two of the "good police" guys in Lester and Bunk celebrating about (temporarily) pawning the case off on Bal'mer County. And as a viewer, you don't know whether to to be happy for or be mad at Bunk and Lester.

Hatfield said...

The commenters who think Frank cares about the power or recognition must have watched a different version than I did. If you want to accuse Frank of caring more about the union than his own son, than ok, because that seems to be true, but everything he does is done out of a feeling of desperation. His rant against the FBI agents ("Twenty-five years we been dyin' slow down there. Dry-docks rustin', piers standin' empty. My friends and their kids. Like we got the cancer. No lifeline got throwed, all that time. Nuthin' from nobody... And now you wanna help us. Help me. Where the f*** were you?" - from the HBO site), and his tearful exchange with Beadie in the penultimate (damn you, Pelecanos!) episode ("I knew I was wrong, but I thought I was wrong for the right reasons") really show what his motives were, and even his obstinate refusal to let Ott run unchallenged is about finishing what he started (not wanting to fess up or involve Nat or Ott, either, but still). His maneuvering to get his brother a cushy position on some committee is fueled by someone who has had so very little for so long, and scrapped so hard for even that, that he wants to do right by those around him with the new means he has.

So go after Frank for being foolish, for rationalizing the bad stuff he was mixed up in, for completely missing the disaster his son was heading for, but don't compare him to Marlo, or any of the drug guys.

Sorry, I've always liked Frank, and his death still wrecks me every time. Also, interestingly, if you go to the HBO site for The Wire (www.hbo.com/thewire), Frank is the image in the front page. It's almost like they know Alan's recapping it!

ianras said...

> Alan's talking about being motivated by self-interest which is entirely different.

Like I said, the community was incidental; the port community had no objective value to Frank. It was just the context that provided him with the nuts and bolts of his identity and the hierarchy that gave him evidence of his worth. When the community was threatened, the hierarchy he was benefitting from was threatened and his sense of self was threatened. So he tried to shore up the community with the Greek to prevent himself from unravelling. The advantage he was to be given wasn't some easily identifiable, bourgeois advantage but some more more obscure and, well, existential one. And that's most of why the second season's my favourite.

> All that Sobatko did was for the community- of course he would benefit if it worked out but not at the expense of the rest of the community.

But it came at the expense of the prostitutes and drug addicts and victims of gun violence Frank was helping allow. Wasn't Brianna only trying to protect the Barksdale family in getting D'angelo to renege on his deal? Wasn't Landsman trying to protect homicide in asking Lester to not search for more bodies in the tenements? Isn't one of the points of 'The Wire' that it's common to (almost) all people that we strive to climb hierarchical structures and that while some of those structures are allowed legitimacy and some aren't, none of them are climbed without making victims of others?

Anonymous said...

alan i have a question about the wire i just can't figure out

during the season 1 opening credite sequence montage theres a picture of white mike's mug shoot who we dont meet until season 2, did they shoot the first 2 seasons at the same time?

how did they already have this image that was in season 2

Bryan said...

I understand what you are saying iranras I just don't buy it. I took psych and learned about Maslow's hierarchy and all the rest I just don't necessarily believe it so I believe - despite the consequences - his motives were "relatively" pure.

I do want to say this though re "Isn't one of the points of 'The Wire' that it's common to (almost) all people that we strive to climb hierarchical structures and that while some of those structures are allowed legitimacy and some aren't, none of them are climbed without making victims of others?

in my worldview (and the way I perceive the show) is that only some strive to climb those structures and the rest of us have to try to clean up the mess (or just live with it)

StringerBell said...

I did the egg thing with my buddy a few summers ago (inspired by The Wire, of course). We did it early in the morning and he was able to chug it without a problem. I, on the other hand, threw up immediately after swallowing the yolk.

Club4911 said...

Couple comments ...

*The Carver/Daniels parallel also extends to Carver's stealing of drug money, which seems very similar to what we are lead to believe that Daniels did at a similar point in his career.

*In rewatching, Ziggy and his father do share some common traits. The one starting to show already is the inability to not flash money around. It is this flaw, the purchasing of the location for the stained glass window that brings down Sobotka. Ziggy has the identical issue which is really a scream for respect and attention - that drove him to the eventual murders.

DolphinFan said...

Alan,

I was just wondering after reading all of your superb summaries up so far incl. Season 2's: do think there is ANYTHING admirable about Jimmy McNulty? It seems like 99% of how Jimmy is described here is based on him not really caring about victims, being as much or more responsible for catastrophic violence as drug dealers are, and generally being a real piece of garbage. I certainly can't say Jimmy is bereft of legion problems, but my general impression is that you hate the guy. Is that true?

Andrew said...

One of the things that seems to distinguish Avon from some drug dealers we'll meet in later seasons -- or, for that matter, from The Greek and his crew -- is that he still seems to acknowledge certain parts of the social compact, but is that just a matter of convenience for him?



It's the latter. The fact that he ultimately consented after the fact to Stringer having Dee killed shows how much his "code" meant to him when push came to shove.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I certainly can't say Jimmy is bereft of legion problems, but my general impression is that you hate the guy. Is that true?

I don't hate Jimmy. I just have no illusions about him, either. He can be charming at times, and he's obviously a hell of a cop, but he's just as motivated by self-interest as all but a handful of characters on this show. His brand of self-interest (proving he's smarter than the world) just happens to be self-destructive, too, so it's not as obvious at first.

rhys said...

An ongoing theme with McNulty is his self-deprecation. As with many characters, he has multiple motives. Yes, he wants to screw over his bosses. But a certain degree of that desire comes from disgust at them wanting to pawn the numbers off on county and not working to work the case properly. However, he will never admit to being a hero-type. Contrast him claiming to only being interested in screwing his bosses with the great lengths he goes to later on to try to find the first woman's family.

Similarly Avon has multiple motivations. Tillman is three birds with one stone. 1) Take out an obnoxious guard, 2) Scare D away from doing drugs, 3) Give himself (and he had hoped D) leverage to get out of jail sooner. All of those line up to give them the perfect opportunity. However, I don't buy your overly noble perception of Avon. Sure, Avon recognizes the way the game works. But he's not going to let some guard give one of his soldiers grief if he can put a stop to it. It doesn't matter if he can see why the guy would be pissed, he's still got to protect his people or he's not a real leader.

It is interesting comparing the scheming more calm Avon here (probably by virtue of his circumstances) to the 3rd season Avon who clearly seemed like he'd taken one too many blows to the head during his boxing career and was just out for blood.

Bryan Murray said...

This will be the third time I've watched this season and I still can't get into it until episode 4 or 5. It does take the task force a while to form in season 1 but this is different because we know it will eventually happen - it just takes forever.

There is also something about the stevedores (similar to the newspaper story in season 5) that I never really connected with. Both stories seemed too far from the main action and they were completely contained to one season. I can't totally put my finger on why the stevedores' story doesn't resonate but I know there are way too many pointless Ziggy high jinks.

Agree with the above posters - he is pretty brutal but extremely sad. In no way do he and Frank deserve what happens to them.

thanat-0s said...

He just tipped off the authorities. You know, like a leading citizen of his community would be expected to do.

Yeah, only after he killed what seven or eight other prisoners with his hot shots. In my mind that was the most brutal deed in the show that was full of them. Not only Avon demnstrated complete disregard to the lives of other people, he did it with such calculated purpose and he forced other people to take part in it against their will. Remember what Butch said after this to Omar? "His father was pure evil and Avon is no better". And he is. That was demonstration of pure totalitarism that shows that Marlo was only a heir to someone who was maybe even more cruel then him. And the worst part of it? No one cares about dead inmates, just like no one cares about dead prostitutes in the can. Even in this tread.

Anonymous said...

alan i have a question about the wire i just can't figure out

during the season 1 opening credite sequence montage theres a picture of white mike's mug shoot who we dont meet until season 2, did they shoot the first 2 seasons at the same time?

how did they already have this image that was in season 2

nfieldr said...

Vondos specifically tells Frank that they did not pick up the can because they were waiting for someone to come off of the ship with the ok, but that never happened. That's why they left the can on the dock.

Also, could someone please explain the gesture that Horse made to Frank (his finger to his eye) when he went in to tell him that Valchek was there?

thanat-0s said...

Also, could someone please explain the gesture that Horse made to Frank (his finger to his eye) when he went in to tell him that Valchek was there?

it means "watch out".

Eyeball Wit said...

Using the logic we've tossed around here, even Mother Teresa was out for herself.
That said, as we can see by the car he drives, the clothes he wears, the house he lives in, and the fact that his screwup kid isn't going to Towson, Frank isn't skimming for himself. That makes him different than Stringer (remember his apartment), Avon, Marlo, Prop Joe, the Greeks, and politicians too numerous to mention.

What do you want, an egg in your beer? My mother used to say that to me when I was little--as in "Is there anything else I can get you, little sir?"-- but I never saw anyone actually do it (drink a beer, at any hour of the day). It's the Breakfast of Champions, I guess.

And Anonymous, you present a nice analysis of how the crime stats work. In general, however, the bottom line for the department is the fewer murders the better (Ostensibly, the job is about preventing murders, although the reality is that most just aren't preventable.) That's why no one wants to make D'Angelo's death a murder, or take on the girls in the can, regardless of whether it's a dunker or a whodunnit. If the murder rate is too high--clearances or not--it makes City Hall look bad and they heap dung on the police bosses.

Homicide the book depicts much back and forth between the coroner and the detectives, often hoping a borderline "whodunnit" won't come back as a murder.

So first best is actually no murders. Second best (but much worse) is murders that look enough like natural causes that they won't be counted (like D'Angelo's "suicide" or Avon's prison murders to come.) A close third is dunkers, which count as homicides but boost a unit's clearance rate, as well as the individual detective's rate. And worst of all, is whodunnits, which count as homicides and reduce the clearance rate.

And it gets more complicated still--we'll see in season 3-4 (?) that Landsman/Daniels/Carcetti agree to pull Marlo's bodies out of the vacants immediately so that they go on Mayor Royce's stats, making it easier for the new Carcetti administration to show an improvement.

Homicide the book again makes it clear that much of this is luck of the draw, even against the backdrop of one detective's improbable run of clearances. The book is well worth reading if you want to understand the workings of the department.

(And Anon: you can pick a name here just by clicking the Name/URL tab. No registration needed.)

Theresa said...

Okay, so in that case, do you think Avon would have left Tillman alone if he were simply a law-abiding guard who was harassing Wee-Bey over his cousin's murder?

I'm coming to this debate a little late, but I have a question: are we to assume that Avon knew that Dee was doing drugs and that's why he'd been avoiding him, or did he just figure it out? Also, even if he knew that Dee was into drugs, how did he know that Tillman (which my subtitles spell "Tilghman") was the responsible guard? I've only seen season two once so I forget how a lot of this goes down. It seems to me, though, at least in this episode, that he consulted with Stringer about "taking care of" Tillman before he went to go see Dee, indicating that he needed to be dealt with anyway. I'm just a little confused on the timeline; maybe someone more familiar with the second season can help me out.

Anonymous said...

In the case of the prison guard even if he was a straight arrow the Gant precedent applies. The guard is messing with Avon's own so, according to the Gant precedent, everything up to murdering the guard is on the board.

Anonymous said...

At some point in the show (second or third season I think), Rawls mentioned that Ray Cole was clearing "dunkers" at a rate of about 60%. It seemed like that was supposed to be considered good. I wasn't sure if Rawls was being sarcastic or not, but if not, then even the easiest cases aren't close to a sure thing.

gregstah said...

tillman is a guard, tilghman is the middle school

also, not only did marlo have the security guard at the convienence store killed, but they also had the potato chip lady killed when they wanted to have omar set up for a murder, something i don't see avon/wee bay doing

Andrew said...

also, not only did marlo have the security guard at the convienence store killed, but they also had the potato chip lady killed when they wanted to have omar set up for a murder, something i don't see avon/wee bay doing

I don't buy that. Just as Marlo had the potato chip lady killed in order to set up Omar, Avon had six people who never did a thing to him killed in a single night when he wanted to get his sentence reduced. They were both perfectly willing to use murder as a means rather than an end.

mikeb302000 said...

Ziggy was one of my favorite characters. I didn't hate him at all. I envied him in a strange way. When I was a teenager I remember guys like him, who weren't afraid to do stupid things, who weren't afraid to get their ass kicked for doing them. At the time I was ashamed of my fear to act like that. Later of course I realized those guys weren't good role models, but at the time they seemed like it.

mikeb302000 said...

Ziggy was one of my favorite characters. I didn't hate him at all. I envied him in a strange way. When I was a teenager I remember guys like him, who weren't afraid to do stupid things, who weren't afraid to get their ass kicked for doing them. At the time I was ashamed of my fear to act like that. Later of course I realized those guys weren't good role models, but at the time they seemed like it.

Eyeball Wit said...

A comment and a question. Let's remember that Avon telling D to just say no isn't only familial concern.
He's concerned that he'll be more likely to flip, a concern that Stringer shared.

But how exactly was D going to flip? While Avon has a short stretch and is coming up for parole, D is probably 10 years away from a parole hearing. So even if he did decide to give up the rest of the Barksdales, there's really no mechanism to release him quickly. D had his chance when awaiting trial and let it pass.

Can someone explain?

Hatfield said...

The guard actually shares a name with the School on season 4, spelling and all.

I do buy the distinction between what Avon does this season and what Marlo does later. The 5 or 6 guys who die from what Avon does are all convicts, and junkies to boot, and Avon has never had much respect for his clients. It's brutal, but he still wouldn't kill that woman to set Omar up, and he wouldn't kill the later security guard for calling him out on stealing lollipops. He would lecture him on how it was, sure, but there would be no value in having that guy killed, in Avon's mind. Now, if he were planning on testifying or had been bought by them at an earlier time...well, then he'd be in trouble.

Eyeball Wit, I've been wondering the same thing, but it seems probable that they could move him to an even cushier prison, move up his parole, have his sentence reduced, etc. I don't know the procedure, but shouldn't the State's Attorney be able to swing something like that? The sad thing about it for D is that he had obviously decided to carry it, felt that he deserved it in some way, but Stringer was too cautious to let him be out there, away from the family.

gregstah said...

I don't buy that. Just as Marlo had the potato chip lady killed in order to set up Omar, Avon had six people who never did a thing to him killed in a single night when he wanted to get his sentence reduced. They were both perfectly willing to use murder as a means rather than an end.



trying to say who is the more rational, caring cold blooded killer is a tough task, but the cons, it can be argued, were players, but the chip lady was a citizen

Andrew said...

trying to say who is the more rational, caring cold blooded killer is a tough task, but the cons, it can be argued, were players, but the chip lady was a citizen

That's a silly distinction, especially considering that we know nothing about those convicts, other than that they enjoyed dope. Beyond that, whether or not these guys were "players" is completely irrelevant. They had never done a thing to Avon. They represented no threat to Avon. They were innocent.

This was Avon deciding that it was worth murdering six people in order to get his already light sentence reduced. Besides, I don't think the notion that these cons were "players" ever even entered his mind. It was pure self-interest. You telling me that in a hypotetical scenario if Stringer came to him and said, "We've found a way to get your sentence reduced. All you have to do is have some nice potato chip lady killed," that Avon would've refused, that his "code" would've stopped him from pursuing his own self-interest?

Look at his face when the hot shots start taking effect, his expression of pure indifference as people all around him are dying horribly by his hand, and tell me that look can't stand right alongside Marlo's face when he stuck a gun inside a woman's mouth and pulled the trigger. It's sociopathy, pure and simple.

Paul B. said...

At some point in the show (second or third season I think), Rawls mentioned that Ray Cole was clearing "dunkers" at a rate of about 60%. It seemed like that was supposed to be considered good. I wasn't sure if Rawls was being sarcastic or not, but if not, then even the easiest cases aren't close to a sure thing.

I'm sure that was sarcasm. I always got a kick out of that line: "Oh, you're good with the dunkers. Hell, you make 6, 7 out of ten of those..."

Throughout the seasons, even after he's dead, the show indicates that Ray Cole wasn't much of a detective...from Landsman's eulogy at the bar, to Season 5, when Jimmy is looking for old cases to link to his fake killer and he uses one of Cole's unsolved murders.

Paul B. said...

Doesn't we learn in Season 4 that Krawczyk wears another hat as the head of the School Committee? Or was it just a guy who looked like him? In a show where all the pieces matter, I can't figure out the significance of that. I think it was just one scene, so they could have just used any actor.

Andrew said...

Doesn't we learn in Season 4 that Krawczyk wears another hat as the head of the School Committee? Or was it just a guy who looked like him? In a show where all the pieces matter, I can't figure out the significance of that. I think it was just one scene, so they could have just used any actor.

Yes, that was him. I think it was just a sly joke. You find out that there's a multi-million dollar school deficit, and soon thereafter find out that Andy Krawczyk, super-corrupt land developer, is also president of the school board. It's just kind of a "That figures" moment.

At some point in the show (second or third season I think), Rawls mentioned that Ray Cole was clearing "dunkers" at a rate of about 60%. It seemed like that was supposed to be considered good. I wasn't sure if Rawls was being sarcastic or not, but if not, then even the easiest cases aren't close to a sure thing.

It was definitely sarcasm, but I'm pretty sure that was with Santangelo, not Cole, and it was in season 1. It's the scene where Rawls gives him the "Give me Jimmy, or clear a case" ultimatum.

Paul B. said...

It was definitely sarcasm, but I'm pretty sure that was with Santangelo, not Cole, and it was in season 1. It's the scene where Rawls gives him the "Give me Jimmy, or clear a case"

Oops. It's one of my favorite lines, and I didn't even get it right. You're correct, Rawls said it to Santangelo, not Cole.

Kate said...

About Mother Theresa being out for herself:

Actually there are some who think so. See Christopher Hutchins "The Missionary Position" and Theresa Funicello's "The Tyranny of Kindness."

No such tyranny on the Wire here. I can't watch Vondas and the Greek without thinking ahead to how they sell out Prop Joe.

I know that Season 2 is considered by some critics to be the weakest, but I love its Shakepearean (rather than Dickensonian) dimension. I think Frank is a deeply flawed but tragic hero.

Lisa said...

Do we ever find out what nationality "The Greek" really is? As he's disappearing at the end of this season he says something about not really being greek -- should I be able to figure it out from other clues, or does it stay a mystery?

Paul B. said...

Lisa, I don't think we ever find out where he's from. Read the Wikipedia article on the Greek to learn more about him though.

Anonymous said...

Bro, the beer and egg thing is a time-honored alcoholic's tradition -- it's a way to get at least a tiny bit of protein into your body without having to leave the bar or take some time out from drinking.

It's VERY old-school -- a lot of oldtimey Irish & German bars have wire carousels on the bar holding hard-boiled eggs, but real lowdown places don't even bother with the boiling.

RaeRay said...

I know these discussions are ages old, but I'm going to leave this here anyway. The signal Horseface gives to Frank to let him know that Valchek is here to see Frank is referenced at the end of the scene when Valchek promises to have his finger in Frank's eye (as payback for Frank "taking" the prime real estate for the stained glass window.) I'm thinking a finger in the eye would be uncomfortable and would make it hard for anyone to function - which is my interpretation of what Valcheck means. I'm assuming it's a common idiom because, again, it's the signal Horseface gives to Frank.

I'm on my second viewing of The Wire; I noticed this site while in the middle of the first viewing but held off from reading it for fear I wouldn't be strong enough to abstain from the veterans' posts :) Alan's commentary and synopses really help, and it's been great to read the viewers' comments and reactions, even if I am several years late to the dance. Cheers!

RaeRay said...

Me again....I'm from Canada and it's illegal here for alcohol to be served in a public place before 11 a.m. - bars and liquor stores themseles do not open before 11 a.m. Is this not the same in the U.S? I guess not? When I watched the eggs-in-a-beer scene all I could think were two things: "how are they getting served at breakfast time?" and also, "ewww!!!! no thanks!"

Smapdi said...

RaeRay, laws regarding alcohol sales vary from state to state. I'm in Ohio and bars can't serve from 1 AM to 6 AM. (5 AM is for the night shift folks, like me, and raging alcoholics, of course).